Highway 82 is the artery of the Roaring Fork Valley, serving as a linkage between each of its major towns and the only year-round option for accessing Aspen. It’s an important part of the landscape for those who live here – but its effects extend beyond the human population. The Roaring Fork Valley is also home to a variety of wildlife species, including several thousand elk and deer. Highway 82’s path along the valley floor bisects the ranges of both herds, presenting a challenge to safe movement for elk, deer, and other animals.
In the spring of 2021, Wilderness Workshop and the Watershed Biodiversity Initiative partnered to inventory all of the existing underpasses along Highway 82 between the south end of Glenwood Springs and the western edge of Aspen. The goal: determine what existing structures provide opportunities for elk and deer to move safely and efficiently across the busy road, accounting for areas with high vehicle/wildlife collision rates and which underpasses are best placed to connect ideal habitat. Elk and deer were chosen as the focus species as any underpass large enough for them to cross safely in groups is suitable for other terrestrial wildlife. Both species are also in decline in the Roaring Fork Valley, making awareness of their ranges and movements and providing access to good habitat all the more critical.
The greatest threats to local elk and deer populations are habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and changes in land use, particularly from a recreation standpoint. As more people move to the Roaring Fork Valley and take advantage of spending time in its incredible wild landscapes, places where elk, deer, and other wildlife can find the safety and solitude necessary to their survival and to the birthing and rearing of their young are diminishing rapidly. A balance between development, recreational use, and preserving land as wild habitat is key to the Roaring Fork Valley remaining home for these species. Finding and supporting safe crossings along Highway 82 is a step in this equation towards making the Valley a better living space for wildlife and humans alike.
Author: Wildlife corridors specialist Lauren Buchholz. A longtime conservation professional with a strong background in fieldwork, monitoring, and public engagement and outreach, Lauren grew up on the Front Range and spent two years living in the Gunnison Valley and working across southwest Colorado. She returned to the Western Slope last summer after spending several years in New Zealand and traveling the world as an expedition photography instructor, and she’s excited to once again call the Rocky Mountains home.